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ARCHIVES Home

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ARCHIVES  April 2006, Week 3

ARCHIVES April 2006, Week 3

Subject:

Re: nara and reclassification

From:

Arel Lucas <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Arel Lucas <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 21 Apr 2006 09:38:22 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (58 lines)

I agree that archivists should be speaking out on this issue. 
However, I suspect that archivists may be feeling pressure--whether
internal or external--to keep our heads down and not express opinions
publicly.  Whereas the ALA has a rather "radical" reputation for
speaking out on First Amendment issues, archivists and our
professional organizations are seen as more conservative, and perhaps
employers do not want to hire people who are vocal.  I know that my
position as a jobseeker at this time has kept me from posting on this
issue until now.

The issues are frighteningly Orwellian, smacking of revisionism (of
history) at worst or of the suppression of politically embarrasing
documents.  No matter who we are as archivists, however, I think we
are acutely aware that we are expected to represent the interests of
our employers, whether they be academic, religious, corporate, or
governmental.  We are expected as well to respect the interests of
other such groups, and there is a different attitude that I have
noticed between academic archivists and those who work for
corporations, churches, or governments.  Academics have been among the
most vocal on this issue in favor of the public's right to know, and I
think this attitude--that information should be public where it
affects the public interest--is characteristic of archivists in
adacemic institutions as well.  I think it may not be to my credit in
the eyes of some people (I can vividly remember one interview, for
instance) that I worked as a project archivist in the Tobacco Control
Archives, of which the founding papers were alleged to have been
stolen from a tobacco corporation.  It was as if I had stolen the
papers myself and was expected to give them back!

Perhaps the feeling is that if we keep quiet and don't get involved in
political issues both we and the papers we preserve will be safer. 
Unfortunately, I doubt this is the case.

Then again, maybe we're all too busy just fighting off mold, dust, and disorder.

Arel Lucas
currently in Arizona
------------------------
On 4/19/06, Richard Cox <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> Bruce Montgomery writes, "Although some believe we should not recall the events surrounding Nixon and his presidential materials, they have everything to do with how NARA has been transformed into an essentially political (more than cultural) executive branch agency. It's a complicated story, but one that explains how presidential administrations see the Archives as a repository of executive branch evidence that may have a profound influence on how history judges their actions. As others know, the Archives has often been subject to political pressures from the White House to serve its own interests in strengthening the presidential prerogatives of executive privilege. It has sometimes been caught in the wider struggle over the separation of powers as the executive branch battles to circumvent or nullify much of the post-Watergate legislation that was designed to establish a more accountable and open government."
>
> Montgomery provides a pretty good assessment of what has occurred with NARA, but in my opinion it suggests all the more reason why archivists need to speak up, with or without SAA leadership.  It is all the more reason why we should be fighting for a strong NARA, not just understanding the situation.  If we just sit back and allow our government to create a more and more secret regime, is there any point at all in trying to function as archivists?  Are we going to sit back and allow the FBI, and other intelligence agencies, come into our archives to shut down our collections in the name of national security and state secrets, such as is happening with the Jack Anderson papers being offered to the George Washington University?  I hope not. (And I am appreciative of the small group of individuals posting messages about this case  but it could be a lot more!).
>
> Why is it that the Smithsonian-Showtime agreement has generated such a quick response, according to Jacqueline Trescott in the April 18th Washington Post, when  "More than 200 filmmakers and historians asked the Smithsonian Institution yesterday to abandon its production deal with Showtime Networks and reconsider a recently imposed policy that limits access to Smithsonian archives and experts"?  It seems to me that the government secrecy issues represented in the reclassification controversy possess far greater implications for us as a nation and profession than the intellectual property concerns that we see in the Smithsonian controversy. Are archivists just too uninterested in the National Archives?  Do they merely think that this is business as usual, for both NARA and the Bush administration, so why bother?  Or are archivists just too willing to accept, at face value, any explanation coming from Archivist Weinstein and NARA leadership?
> <snip>

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